Stop sneering at Primark shoppers

There is more than a whiff of class contempt in the branding of shoppers as ‘Covidiots’.

Paddy Hannam

Topics Politics UK

As many non-essential shops reopened on Monday, some people began to sneer at the long queues of customers.

Apparently, the desire to replace worn-out clothes or pick up other fresh goods at your local chain store is both evidence of out-of-control consumerism and that the country is awash with ‘Covidiots’. Queues outside the nation’s Primark shops drew particular attention for their great length. Cheap garments, it seems, are not an acceptable priority in these times.

It seems odd that people are surprised at the level of demand. After months locked away, unable to see friends and loved ones, many of us are desperate to get back to some kind of normality. We have missed the opportunity to shop at our favourite stores and dine in our favourite restaurants.

In normal times, we would not be happy to queue for hours on end to go to a clothes shop. On Monday the determination of some to battle through to get their opportunity to shop was indeed striking.

But these are not yet normal times.These are the furtive beginnings of a return to the way things were, but the pace of change is slow. And yet even that glacial-speed progress seems to be offensive to some. Despite the Covid-19 epidemic passing into history, it is apparently still vital to public health for snobs to police the shopping habits of the masses.

You would have thought it obvious why, after a period which has seen the most extensive restrictions on civil liberties in the UK’s history, lots of people would be keen to take early advantage of the recent relaxations of the rules. We need only look at London’s parks to see how sick of lockdown many are.

Those upset that large crowds are attending big shops appear to be unaware of how the other half lives. Why are people so keen to go to Primark and McDonald’s, they ask? Is it not obvious? Might it have something to do with the fact that some folk do not have much cash to spare, particularly at a time of high unemployment and reduced incomes?

The refrain then becomes that shoppers should not leave their homes but instead order online. But shopping is not a purely practical exercise. It is usually meant to be an experience – one which is difficult to fully reproduce over the internet.

We have all experienced the frustrations of unpacking newly delivered clothes only to find they do not fit, or of opening an eagerly awaited meal delivery only to find it has gone cold. Browsing local stores is one of the basic pleasures we took for granted, and many have sorely missed it since it became impossible. Now that it is possible again, it makes sense that large numbers have been keen to return.

We are not allowed to relax in pubs. We are not allowed to have parties of any real size. We are not even allowed to get within two metres of people we do not live with. In short, despite the collapse in cases and fatalities from Covid-19, our lives remain pretty boring and restricted. In this context, criticising shoppers for trying to brighten up their daily lives at a time of national ennui lacks empathy.

Things have been particularly hard for those living in small, cramped apartments without gardens, and for those living alone. Some of these people will no doubt have opted to join the throngs pounding the high streets on Monday. We cannot blame them for wanting their lives back.

Paddy Hannam is a writer.

Picture by: Getty.

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Gorge On the Gopher

16th June 2020 at 10:38 pm

Jeez we can’t even queue politely without someone having a whinge. Maybe they’d rather we’re more like the US and have a riot so we can break in and nick stuff?

Flossy Morris

16th June 2020 at 9:21 pm

Never been much of a shopper but I understand what the article is driving at regarding the pleasurable “experience” of going shopping. And even though I am not much of a shopper, I still preferred – just about – going to the shops over internet purchasing. No more.

The first Saturday job I got was in retail (B&Q) in the late 90s. The interviewer asked me if I thought that the customer was king. I said yes and he was glad because that was the ethos of retail: you did not upset the customer. Then the September 2001 attacks happened. After that, if you got slightly nowty with the person behind the counter of a shop or any other place, even for a valid reason, you were often rewarded with “don’t raise your voice or I’ll call security”. Nice.

At a butchers just over a week ago, my wife was asked to put the money in a plastic box when paying (this was after not being “allowed” [this is a word I’m beginning to loath] to enter the shop properly, just tell what we wanted from the doorway). As soon as the notes fell in the box, a lady gave each note a good hose down with some anti-bacterial spray. Talk about tactless. They could have at least waited until we were out of the shop instead of demonstrating their fear of us as potential carriers of pestilence. Shopkeepers no longer want us in their shops. They just want our money. What a journey the customer has made in a quarter of a decade: from being treated as kings to potential terrorists and now as a threat to health, too. No wonder the highstreet is in the state it’s in.

Flossy Morris

16th June 2020 at 9:23 pm

I meant a quarter of a century

Totally Karen

16th June 2020 at 8:57 pm

I must admit that I did roll my eyes when I saw the people queuing outside Primark but this article has changed my mind about it.

Gareth Edward KING

16th June 2020 at 7:01 pm

Surely the point is, why are people still putting up with these petty restrictons? In the UK’s Coronovirus Bill would it actually lead to a court case that if you were queueing within two metres of someone else it means you are breaking the law? I don’t see it. I’m really sick of it here in Madrid and I’ve already been denounced for daring to be within someone’s sacred two metres in a supermarket. When the police did arrive there was little they could do, how would it stand up in court? As far as I am aware, there have been 700,000 fines in Spain against people who’ve apparently broken the ‘lockdown’ restrictions but they’re all in a legal limbo. People should rebel. I refuse to queue, or at least I’ve got my shopping requirements so well worked out they I know how not to waste time. I certainly wouldn’t put up with a queue outside H & M, for instance. Would the cops really arrest people en masse for queueing normally? and not respecting these horrendous ‘social distancing’ rules which have zero scientific basis? Going by what’s been happening in the UK recently, the police cannot be seen to be letting people people tear statues down but then manhandling ordinary citizens who are merely shopping. What a ridiculous state of affairs!

jamie murray

17th June 2020 at 10:12 am

If it’s any consolation there must be a great many people who feel exactly the same as you, i certainly do, the problem is to many people are just to sheep like and believe everything the lying msm or in Britains case the lying bbc tell them. Critical thinking is a big no no for many.

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